The firing of Paul Molitor was one of the more expected, yet unexpected Twins moves I can remember in recent history, if that makes any sense. From the moment that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine took over, we wondered how long Molitor would be allowed to stick around. Owner Jim Pohlad ordered before hiring Falvey and Levine that Molitor had to complete the final year of his initial three-year contract, but brand-new front offices typically bring in their own managers and thus it was just a matter of how much leash Molitor would be given.
Last season, the Twins surprised everyone and made it to the AL Wild Card game. While the front office held up their end of the bargain by letting Molitor complete the year, a wrench may have been thrown into their plans when Molitor received AL Manager of the Year honors. With the optics of moving on from the most recent recipient of the award, instead Falvey and Levine signed Molitor to a second three-year contract.
Though the 2018 season featured just the Cleveland Indians as obstacles between the Twins and a playoff spot, it would have been a mistake to think that this Twins squad would have been superior to the eventual AL Central champs. Ultimately the team finished with a record of 78-84, disappointing but probably better than how this entire season felt. Nonetheless, Falvey and Levine decided they had seen enough from Molitor and determined it was time to bring in their own manager.
I’d say my biggest surprise was that Molitor was axed in spite of having two more years on his contract. It doesn’t bother me that it was just a year after receiving a new contract, as I still think that the contract extension was not planned until the team surprisingly made the playoffs. However, I just kind of assumed that were Molitor to leave, he’d either complete his contract or would be let go with a year remaining.
As a manager, I wasn’t a big fan when Molitor was brought aboard. For a team that has issues with the “country club” mentality of constantly bringing back people with ties to the organization, it felt that this was a repeat instead of going with someone like then-Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo (he was ultimately hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to the 2017 season). However, I constantly saw rave reviews of Molitor’s “baseball IQ” and thus I was willing to accept his hiring even if he wasn’t necessarily my first choice.
Early returns seemed fairly promising. Just a month into his tenure, I commented that Molitor was embracing the ideas of platooning and using his closer (Glen Perkins) for more than just the 9th inning. On the flip side, he was already making other bullpen moves that weren’t so pleasant, such as giving high-leverage innings to Blaine Boyer. Those poor bullpen decisions continued throughout his time at the helm, using lefties Taylor Rogers and Craig Breslow to retire righties, and this season doing his best Tom Thibodeau impression with relievers Ryan Pressly and Trevor Hildenberger. (For the non-Timberwolves fans, that means he overused them to the point of diminishing returns.) It should be noted that many managers are accused of mismanaging their bullpens, so while this was annoying from Molitor, it wasn’t like he was unusually bad, either.
On the plus side, he did embrace pretty much every idea thrown at him by Falvey and Levine. Joe Mauer batted elsewhere than third in the order. Eddie Rosario batted second while he was the hottest hitter on the team. The team employed more and more defensive shifts, including moving Miguel Sano to the right side of second base, using four outfielders, and having a five-man infield. Platoons occurred more often than we saw with Ron Gardenhire. The opener spread to its second organization as the Twins utilized it regularly in September.
Overall, I didn’t think Molitor was necessarily a bad manager. However, we don’t know what it was like in the clubhouse, and though there were no indications of dissension, there’s no denying that the 62-year old Molitor was significantly older than all of the players. Thus, it would seem natural that Falvey and Levine would bring in a much younger manager. I’m not going to bother thinking about who might be hired - I could make 20 predictions and it’ll still be some outside-the-box hire - but I have to think connecting with the younger players will be a priority. In fact, it appears they want someone “who is more in tune with the day-to-day needs of the modern ballplayer.” Save your Trevor May Fortnite jokes, but it wouldn’t shock me that Molitor was trying to model his players to act as he did during his playing career in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
I’ve seen some comments that Molitor was almost set up to fail with the acquisitions of Logan Morrison, Lance Lynn, and Co. That feels like a hindsight is 20/20 thought process to me, as it was believed that the organization did well with many of those additions and a lot of what went wrong was outside the front office’s control. That is, unless you think it was their fault Morrison had a faulty hip, Addison Reed lost 2 MPH off his fastball, and that Lynn started nibbling at the strike zone. Many players didn’t perform, but I don’t see it as issues with Falvey and Levine’s tactics for building the roster.
Overall, this firing doesn’t feel so much as “you’re the problem” so much as “you’re not the solution.” I’m intrigued to see the names that will start popping up this offseason. I bet a “player’s manager” will be brought in, likely a younger guy, perhaps without any prior managing experience. While an open-minded manager would be nice, I don’t think a similar person to current Phillies manager Gabe Kapler will be the right course of action. Regardless of who is hired, Falvey and Levine continue to reshape the organization to meet their desires, and this along with plenty of payroll room is sure to create an action-packed offseason.